Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Prejudice hits the dance floor

“I don’t like those Intifada dances.”

“What do you mean, ‘Intifada dances’?”

“They’re Turkish or something, but they’re not Israeli.”

I was stunned into silence.

Some 20 years ago, I had a Yemenite teacher for my first attempt at Ulpan (modern Israeli Hebrew). When she gave a spelling test, it was easy as pie: In her classic Yemenite-Hebrew pronunciation, she distinguished quite clearly between a vet and a vav, between a chet and a chaf, between a tet and a tav. I took it for granted that Yemenite Hebrew, being much closer to the source than Ashkenazi Hebrew, was probably the closest thing we had to the original pronunciation.

I’ve since learned of other pronunciations of Hebrew among the B’nei Edot HaMitzrach, the Jews of the Eastern Communities (not sure whether that’s an accurate translation). Some apparently pronounce the vav like a w and the tav like a th. That’s certainly news to me. But it doesn’t detract from my original premise, namely, that those whose communities of original are closest to the Land of Israel are more likely to have maintained pronunciations echoing those of our ancestors.

The same is true of Israeli folk dancing. Many Israeli folk dancers are well aware that the hora is a dance of southeastern European origin. The “mayim” step is also known, among international folk dancers, as the Greek “grapevine” step. Again, I think that the Israeli dances that are probably closest in style to what our ancestors danced are the dances of Yemenite and Middle Eastern origin.

So when the session leader played an Israeli dance choreographed in the Greek manner to Greek-influenced music , I commented to my buddy, “Well, that one’s Greek-style. Is that any more Israeli?” No, but I like the music better.” At that point, I was tired of her offensive remarks, and hit her right between the eyes with both barrels, exactly as she deserved: “That’s Ashkenazi prejudice.”

Okay, okay, so call me a hypocrite: I had to make nicey-nicey to her later on because I see her at Israeli folk dancing all the time, and also (full disclosure) because she sometimes brings her car into Manhattan for Haim’s Sunday night Israeli folk dance session and gives us a ride home. But I don’t think I’ll ever think of her with quite as much respect again.

To the best of my knowledge, I’m 100% Ashkenazi. But I get upset by negative attitudes against half the Jewish people. Are we one or aren’t we?!


Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Me too. My brother feels similar, and has been known to say something like "no, i'm not Sephardic, just open-minded."

I'm so happy i went to a multicultural (Ashkenazic, Sephardic, etc.) Jewish day school.

Tue Mar 21, 02:24:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Steg, we need a more multicultural Judaism, one that recognizes that while some of us are bagels-and-low Jews, others are chummus-on-pita Jews. It's not only ridiculous, it's sad to see an Ethiopian Israeli emerge from the chareidi school system dressed like a Chassidic wannabe.

Tue Mar 21, 11:47:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Maya Resnikoff said...

I've never heard them called intifada dances before- but the prejudice against debkas and similarly styled dances is fairly widespread- several of the folks at the session I go to at home feel similarly, and won't learn them. Sometimes it's just a matter of musical preference. But with a statement like that- I think statements of that sort are part of what makes the larger problem so hard to solve.

As for IFD being like what our biblical ancestors danced - yeah, the Yemenite dances, if anything, although I'm somewhat skeptical all around. But it does remind me of a woman I used to dance with who originally came because she wanted to learn "how Jesus danced". Oy.

Wed Mar 22, 08:38:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I had no idea that there was any prejudice against debkas and/or other "Arabic-style" dances. I hate to break the news to all those "Intifada-dance" haters, but we and the Arabs are all Semites (or, at least, of Semitic origin). Personally, I think that anyone who doesn't like debkas because they're too "Arabic" is too removed from his/her roots. The Jewish People did not originate in 17th-century Poland.

Okay, so maybe modern Yemenite dances aren't terribly biblical, but they're probably at least a scunch more so than horas--at least they're from closer to the original "neigborhood." But as for anyone learning how Jesus--or Avraham Avinu, for that matter--danced, it ain't likely. This is a modern folk dance session, not an archeological dig.

Thu Mar 23, 01:03:00 AM 2006  

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